Chapter 5: And Then The Quasi-Brother Was On The Wrong Mountain-Top
“Well. That works too, I guess.” Joss didn’t sound like she meant it.
“This is a perfectly sound structure,” Faye said, looking up at the tent she had just made. She had gone the past few weeks without one, but the rain had started up again, and she wanted to sleep as dry as possible—a difficult task, when everything she owned was soaked through—and the helicopters had dropped some tarps that morning.
Faye stepped back, studying the tent. The baby gurgled at her and she patted its little head. It was quite cute, she had decided. She had wrapped it up and fastened it to her chest.
“Baby likes it,” Faye said, turning to Joss.
“Well, the baby knows not to bite the hand that feeds it,” Joss replied.
“You know, I’ve slept under a hundred million night skies, with or without a tarp. I’ve built a thousand homes, without a hitch. I’ve lived in tents for entire decades of my existence.”
“I’ve stayed warm in blizzards, dry in monsoons, and cool in deserts. I once hid an entire group of pastoral nomads in a lean-to. For an entire month. Without complaint. Because my tents were so hopping. And also camouflaged. And also the nomads were on the run from a desert despot and had no other options, but I feel like that’s beside the point.”
“What is your point, Faye?”
“This is a perfectly sound structure.”
Faye threw her hands up. Not too dramatically, though. She didn’t want to upset Baby.
“I’ll be inside, if you need me,” she muttered. “It’s time for Baby’s nap.”
“Yes, but what will you do with the child?”
Faye stopped in her tracks. Her jaw would have dropped, if she were a jaw-dropping sort of person. She turned to face Joss.
“Did you… just make a joke??” Faye asked. She began to fan herself. “My, my. Joss made a joke. And they said people can’t rally from apocalyptic despondence. Ha!”
Joss simply stared, her face flat as ever. Faye just grinned at her.
“Come on. You know you liked it. Just a little?” She held up her thumb and forefinger, indicating just how little Joss had liked her baby joke.
“I’m going to get another blanket. It’s going to be cold tonight,” she said.
“You do that,” Faye said. “But hurry back! Can’t fall asleep without my cuddle buddy.” She winked and waggled her fingers at Joss. Well, at Joss’s back. The woman had turned without a word and walked away, off to who knows where. Well, off to the pile of supplies the helicopter had dropped that morning.
“Miss you already, snookums!” Faye called after Joss’s back, enjoying herself way too much. She ducked into the tarp-tent, smiling as she brushed her fingers through some of Baby’s impossibly soft hair.
Faye did not jump. She did not scream, she did not gasp. She did blink.
“Tarin?” She asked of the man sitting, cross-legged, at the far edge of the tent. She was surprised he had been able to find a far edge. It was a rather small tent.
Tarin nodded. He looked almost like everyone else. Human man, jeans, t-shirt, Northface jacket. Mountain boots. Weeks-old beard..
“I wasn’t expecting you for a week,” she said. He shrugged.
“I wasn’t expecting you at all,” he said. She grinned. It was his usual greeting, and had been for the past several centuries. And somehow, it was never not funny. To her, anyway.
“And how empty your life would have been, had I not come around,” she said, hand to chest, a solemn salute to an unrealized past. She sat down in front of him.
“Hello, brother,” she said, already feeling a little lighter.
Tarin wasn’t really her brother. Well, maybe he was. She was a little unsure. He was a Courier, like her. They had come about in the same way, for the same purpose, at the same time. Well, roughly the same time. He had been created—born, perhaps—a few months before her.
“Hello. And hello to you too.” He doffed an invisible top-hat at the Baby. Baby drooled a little.
“Who is this?” He asked.
“My new sidekick,” Faye said, “very useful, I’ve discovered. Really brings a lot to the operation. Highly skilled in the arts of misdirection and napping.”
“So happy to hear,” he said. Faye smiled, waiting. They hadn’t seen each other in fifteen years. There were all sorts of things to say, probably. Plenty of catching up to do. ‘Was that you in Irapuato?’ ‘Why, yes it was, thank you for noticing.’ ‘Nice haircut.’ ‘Oh, this? It’s my ‘end-of-the-world’ do.’ ‘How have you been handling your crushing loneliness these days?’ ‘Not very well, if we’re being honest. Really, it feels like the void inside my soul is growing.’ ‘Same. But Portland has really upped their doughnut game, so that’s something.’
But that’s not what either of them said. Reunions weren’t really the time for catching up, Faye thought. Too awkward.
“You called me?” Faye prompted. She had gotten the voice message a few weeks ago. It had been the usual. A greeting in the First Tongue—their mother tongue—followed by a request to meet up at a specific place and time. Relatively specific, anyway. He clearly couldn’t be bothered to abide by his own directions.
“I missed you.”
“And the world is ending. . . ” Faye re-prompted.
“And the world is ending, and I missed you. Is all. Whatever’s coming for Earth, well, I don’t want to face it alone. Do you think we can die?”
Faye nodded. Not because she thought they could die, necessarily, but because she had been feeling the same way and wanted to indicate her solidarity with a miscellaneously affirming gesture.
“Have you heard from any other Couriers?”
Tarin shook his head.
“Last I saw was Rea, and that was two years ago. I tried visiting the Coup last month, but, well. It’s underwater.”
Faye nodded. Alexandria—where the “Coup” was—had been one of the first cities to disappear.
“Well, we’re together now,” she began. “What’s next?”
Tarin watched the baby as its head bobbed sleepily back and forth, not yet committed one way or another to unconsciousness.
“I’m still technically on the job,” Tarin finally said.
“Ya. To Quito. You ever worked for the League?” Faye nodded. They were one of those old, clandestine organizations that nobody really remembered anymore. The exact sort of organization that was old and clandestine enough to remember an even older, more clandestine organization like the Couriers. The League were the types of people that kept Faye’s types of people in business.
“A few times. You carrying a message for them? To Quito?”
“Yep. Want to come?”
Faye shrugged, wondering what the message was. She wouldn’t ask, though, and he wouldn’t say. Professionalism, and whatnot.
“I’m bringing Baby,” she said. He smiled.
“And its mother, I hope?” He asked.
“There is no mother,” Faye said, watching the child. It drooled in its sleep.
“Oh? Who’s the pretty brunette you’ve been traveling with?”
“Joss? She’s just somebody I met.”
“Oh. Huh. Well, you can bring her, too.” He tried to look innocent and disinterested. He failed, on both counts.
Faye rolled her eyes.
“Some things never change,” she muttered. He grinned, incorrigible.
“Oh, please. As if you’re any better.” Faye thought about it. She was sure that she was. She couldn’t, at the moment, think of any concrete examples, per se. But she was sure that, in some abstract way, she was better than Tarin.